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By Jake Zajkowski ’26
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  • Agriculture Sciences Major
  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture

Since 1928 the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, has prepared students for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. A Cornell delegation of more than 15 students and faculty members exemplified this leadership at FFA’s national convention in Indianapolis in early November.

“It’s one of the largest student-led conventions in the country,” said Nickie Deschaine ’27, of the event attended by 72,000 students. “It is by far one of the most eye-opening experiences in the agriculture industry to see so many careers, companies and individuals represented. It brings a lot of pride representing the Northeast.”

Deschaine has attended the convention many times as a member from Maine, however she said she has found the most value in sharing her college experience to potential students. She is a part of an organized effort to form a community among FFA alumni and pre-service agriculture educators on campus, known as Team Ag Ed at Cornell University, which was celebrated at the convention for its engagement efforts across New York.

Members of Team Ag Ed – composed of 4-H and FFA alumni – facilitate workshops, volunteer as judges and support career technical education across the state. Students in the group were awarded the prestigious American FFA degree, the highest degree bestowed on an individual, earned by only 2% of FFA membership. Recipients of this honor were Kelsey LaFave ’24, Brett Blesy ’26, Jordan Gilles ’25, Abby Gase ’25 and Emily Nelson ’26.

Further contributing to Cornell’s standout presence, Mandy Li ’27 achieved recognition as a national agriscience research finalist, while Emily Buckley ’27 secured fourth place in the agriculture communications competition, and Hanna Lighthall earned a bronze distinction in the highly competitive extemporaneous speaking event.

For years Jeff Perry, senior education lecturer in the Department of Global Development who recently was honored with a Stephen H. Weiss Provost’s Teaching Award, has led groups of students to the National FFA Convention to recruit undergraduate students to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Throughout the week, in addition to competing, Cornell students ran the college expo booth, where they engaged with thousands of high schoolers, providing insights into the college admission process and showcasing the opportunities available in Ithaca, New York.

Also in attendance at the convention were Cornell alumnae Mikala Anderson ’23 and Susan Armstrong ’23, now pursuing graduate degrees in CALS. Their degree program, Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.), is a collaborative program between Ithaca College and Cornell University that certifies agriculture educators in New York.

For more information on how Cornell cultivates leadership in agriculture, visit the website for New York Agriculture and Outreach, a program housed in the School of Integrative Plant Science, which works to meet the challenges facing agriculture and create a more agriculturally literate society.

Jake Zajkowski ’26 is an agricultural science major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. He works as a communications assistant for Cornell’s Food System and Global Change research group

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